Is Video Better than a Call?

Why does graduate student resist a voice call?

This is a black and white photo of  Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty at the first public demonstration of the Picturephone on June 30, 1970. AT&T Archives & History Center
PIcturephone, 1970 (AT&T Archives)

Dear Smartphone: I teach graduate students and now do so over a virtual classroom. Over the summer, one of my students has to finish a paper and then look for a job in this country. He checks in with me once a week. I can’t figure out why he insists  on using Zoom video for these meetings instead of a voice call. We are not sharing documents or anything like that. Dieter, Berkeley


Dear Dieter: I believe you have identified a generational trend. Over the past three or four years, live video has grown in use. One data source says one-fourth of young people in the US video chat on a daily basis. During the pandemic it has became even more mainstream.

Your student probably finds a loss of ‘information’ when the visual channel is absent. You, on the other hand, may find it burdensome, or at least cognitively challenging to have both voice and video merged, particularly if the video quality is poor. Younger people seem to be more forgiving of asynchronous talk and fuzzy pictures. 

SEE The PICTUREPHONE!

A while back I posted a snapshot of the AT&T picturephone to Instagram. I was surprised how many young people did not know about this invention. They were shocked that it took more than 50 years to become mainstream because it seemed so natural! Picturephone service was costly and the technology was well ahead of its time as the video demands fast data speeds, like 5G. Here is a link to its debut.

Back then, most people never used a Picturephone but it was the butt of jokes about the need to take out the hair curlers, get a shave, etc. Today, we makeup similar stories about having an extra “zoom shirt”  on the back of the chair for that impromptu meeting online.

SEE THE CHANGES!

Our devices, and habits, are continually updating. I have an older friend who remembers when her well-to-do grandparents first allowed a phone in their home. The ring-ring was considered to be an interruption, so the butler answered for the householder. A similar protocol evolved in offices, where assistants screened incoming calls. The invention of  caller ID and the answering machine minimized their role, and then, mobile phones ushered in the era of text.

If your student wants to use both voice and image, it could be because they have grown accustomed to distance education via Zoom. Or, if they are from overseas, they may be used to calling back home with video through an Internet connection on Facetime or Skype. These platforms work over the Internet and there are no phone charges. 

If you don’t want to video with the student, hopefully you will be back in your (IRL) classroom soon. 

Need Bluelight Glasses?

Do I need blue light glasses? How do I separate fatigue from facts?

This is a stamdard chart showing the electromagnetic spectrum wavelength. Humans perceive visible light as colors because of these different wavelengths.
Will glasses block the blue light?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I saw my gorgeous daughter-in-law for the first time since the lockdown, and was surprised she now wore glasses. When I asked, it turns out these are not prescription glasses, just a frame with special lenses to filter out “blue light”  from the computer screen. This is all new to me.  Is it useful and should an older person, like me, be filtering the blue light too? Esther, Corinthian Island

Dear Esther: Chances are that your daughter-in-law spends a lot of time on the computer now that the office is closed and business is conducted remotely. Until the lockdown, office workers could break-up their screen time with in-person meetings, voice phone calls, and a beverage break. Now, it is straining on the eyes (and well being) to focus on a single screen, or multiple ones, for eight to ten hours a day. It’s  hard to sort out the effects of general eye fatigue from the specific effects of blue light.

Citing from a Harvard Health report, blue light is visible light with a wave length between 400 and 450 nanometers. LED displays and specifically the backlight displays on smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers look “white” but they are emitting blue light. These high wave lengths have more energy per photon of light than other colors so at high enough doses, they could cause damage when absorbed by various cells in our body.

As more computer users worry about their eyes and clamor to get protective eye gear, others claim that this is just aggressive marketing and up-selling. Many medical experts refute the claims. I encourage you to read up more and try to sort it out.

Smartphone Display

That said, why not check-out what’s baked into your own smartphone? There has been a different, but related concern: blue light from phones interferes with the circadian clock, that is adaption between night and day.

On your iphone or ipad filter out blue light by going to the Display and Brightness screen, and then tapping the Night Shift setting. On an Android look in Settings>Display>Blue Light filter.  To further protect, consider getting a special screen protector for your computer and smartphone – it will block light in the 380-500 nanometer range throughout the day (not just night). 

Age Spectrum…Light Spectrum

I have an interesting anecdote to pass on. When I last visited my ophthalmologist in 2019, the clinician told me she was seeing more young children with vision problems. She encourage me, a.k.a. Dear Smartphone,  to tell parents to withhold Ipads and phones from kids.  BTW,  blue light effects are not confined to young people and office workers. It is thought that it might hasten macular degeneration in older folks. Note that for every research study pointing in one direction, there seems to be refutable evidence in the other. But, if you liked the fit and look of your daughter-in-law’s glasses, why not try a second pair?


Invest in Stocks by Phone?

Brand new investors are using their smartphones to buy and sell stocks. What are the trade (offs).

Robinhood is a site to buy and sell stocks. Three smartphone screen shots are shown, which mimic how a real trade would take be placed.
Robinhood trading platform

Dear Ms. Smartphone: You mentioned an investment in last week’s column so I decided to write you about that. I am finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, and not a lot of cash since I was laid off from construction in March. I opened up an account with a brokerage account that trades stocks and they have a no-fee policy. So, I log in there to buy and sell stocks. My wife says I am spending too much time on my phone, but I think that I am learning something new, and hope to make some spare cash on the side.  A.J., Alameda

Dear A.J.   You are not alone as thousands of new “retail clients” (industry talk) have jumped on the trading bandwagon during this crisis. You only need a brokerage account and a smartphone to get into the market.

One reason is that without sports to wager on, bettors have turned to day trading. Both professional and recreational gamblers are now in the stock market, according to Sports Illustrated. Once these traders are able to return to their regular activities, remember a quote from the venerated investor Warren Buffett: It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” (source: MarketWatch).

Invest in What you Know!

The other reason people are investing is that, like you, they have time, and need cash. DearSmartphone is not certified as an investment advisor, but she is on solid ground when she recommends that you do your homework, invest in companies or industries that you know something about (home builders? construction? materials?), hold a diversified portfolio and don’t put up the money you would normally use to pay the rent.

A concern, as your wife notes, is the time you amass on your phone now that you’ve become a stock trader. In recent times, but before smartphones, a stock broker (i.e. the certified investment advisor!)  would spend all day, at a desk, on a computer, following the market and individual stocks for clients. With changes in technology, everyone can now be their own stock broker, and move in-and-out of the market with lightning speed. 

The Social MediA of Wall St.

This new trading environment is volatile. It seems chaotic and it is susceptible to “fake news” and rumor. When it comes to investment tips, ads can be bought, ideas can be planted on social media or in newsletters, and CEO’s can spin speculative but hopeful stories. Any of these messages will rapidly diffuse into the larger information mainstream that investors, like yourself, tend to read or see. Those sources, not necessarily the underlying financials of the company, may swing the stock, options, and futures market up- and -down in micro-seconds. 

So, do use your smartphone to keep on top of the message stream and identify whether the sender and the story are credible (the research I mentioned). The Securities and Exchange Commission notes (2015) that social media can provide benefit for investors, but is also presents opportunities for fraudsters to engage in market manipulation or “pump and dump” schemes. It’s almost  like reading email: you are less susceptible if you know how to identify the spam and get rid of it.

As you spend more time on your phone with your stocks, I encourage you to ask if this is how you want to invest your two most precious resources: these are your time and your attention. You are channeling them to your device so make sure you enjoy the ride!